My first encounter with the beast was after appendectomy surgery when I was fourteen-years-old. I told my doctor about the beast and he said, “Encountering the beast was not uncommon for many people after major surgery.” I fought the beast the best I could as a young inexperienced teenager. Sometimes I won and at other times he won, however, it was almost a daily battle. One minute, I would be walking on beautiful white clouds of life, then suddenly the beast would tear a hole in those clouds; I’d step through the hole and fall rapidly into a pit of darkness–the beast’s lair.
I had fought this “beast of depression” for so long that I no longer had the strength to continue. I’d tried doctors that had the newest miracle pill for conquering the beast within. However, none of them worked for me—not Lithium, not Prozac, not Serizone, Zoloft or any other little pill could put the beast to flight.
So at an early age, I started drinking, drinking to calm the savage beast within; this at least allowed me to sleep and forget he existed for a little while. However, this birthed a new beast—the “beast of alcohol.” At first, the beast of alcohol seemed to have power over the beast of depression; that is until they became colleagues. They pooled their resources and paired together to drag me deeper into the despair of depression.
Fourteen years later, the beast had worn me to a weary wreck of a man. Desperate, discouraged and disappointed with life, I let the beast seduce me into thinking I’d be better off dead than alive. I would take my own life. There would be no more sleepless nights. There would be no more fear that the beast would attack me when I was the most vulnerable. The beast would be conquered because I would not be around for him to kick when I was down. I would simply be no more. I would be the winner. I thought the beast would be beat and I would be victorious.
So I did it. Late one night, I took the entire bottle—sixty sleeping pills at three hundred milligrams each. Ten should have killed me. Sixty didn’t. I had sat down to die in the living room–what a paradox—dying in a living room. They didn’t work. I wasn’t sure what had happened; I hadn’t thrown them up; I hadn’t been to the hospital or had my stomach pumped. I just simply woke up. I woke up at six o’clock on the morning of November 8, 1976 and walked to my car, opened the door, slipped in the early morning dew and fell on my knees between the car and the car door.
This was when I screamed at God and asked, “Why couldn’t You just let me die and get it over with; I’m worthless and my life is worthless?” That was when I heard someone say, “Hal, I’ll take it; I’ll take your life.” This is where what happened next may get complicated for some people because it was complicated for me. I felt like Paul in two Corinthians 12, when he said “(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)” Through the years, I’ve only shared this a few times, but when I looked upward toward the voice that had spoken, I saw the Lord standing on the other side of the car door. He spoke again and said, “I’ll take your life, I’ll take it just like it is for my Kingdom.”
He then handed me a blank sheet of paper, blank other than a signature on the right-hand bottom—it was signed in red, Jesus Christ, Lord of Lord and King of Kings; it looked as if it had been signed with blood. I didn’t know what to do or what to say, I just stared at Him. I could see the holes in His wrists; I could see the brilliant color of His skin and the radiance of His hair—I’ve never seen a picture of Jesus that came close to looking how He looked. He spoke softly saying “Hal, this is our contract; this is our covenant—sign it and ask me to be Lord of your life.” I looked at the sheet of paper and there was nothing on it except His signature. I responded, “Lord there’s nothing written on it, how will I know what you want me to do?” His reply was that we would fill in all the details as we went. I signed it. I don’t know how, I didn’t have a pen or ink, but I signed it—my name was on the covenant along with His.
Then Jesus started adding amendments to our covenant. I wanted to be obedient because I loved Him and I had willingly signed the covenant. I went from being a Southern Baptist boy to an Assembly of God college student, then to a Charismatic pastor for fifteen years. By the addition of another revision, I embraced the truth of the Seventh-day Adventists Church, where I remain today, working in the Pastoral Department for Three Angels Broadcasting network.
This would be a wonderful time to say everything started coming up roses and the beast within was conquered, but not so. He was subdued, waiting in the sub-shadows of my life, waiting for me to try to lead and not follow Christ. Now I felt like Paul when he said,“…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
For the last thirty-two years of being in the ministry, I have encountered numerous Christians who have trouble understanding why they still have frontal attacks with demons from their past. I have seen them give up on themselves and I’ve witnessed the church separate them from the rest of the flock because they didn’t have the answers for their depression. The ones without the beasts couldn’t understand the ones that fought their beasts and the ones fighting theirs beast couldn’t understand the ones who didn’t understand. This is like the social drinker will never understand the alcoholic and the alcoholic will never understand the social drinker.
My wife, Mollie, loved and comforted me whenever the beast within would attack me. However, she told me that she could sympathize, but not empathize—she had never experienced a day of depression. Then, as she was driving home from work one day, she asked the Lord to help her understand what I was experiencing. She had been ministering to a woman on our staff that was also fighting a beast of hopelessness. She told me that she drove into a cloud so dark that it seemed like it was nightfall. She pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there confused and a sense of hopelessness enshrouded her for several minutes. Then it lifted. Somehow for a brief moment she had stumble upon the beast within. She met what I had been fighting since I was fourteen. She had encountered the beast.
I believe that many of us have familiar beasts, even after we’re born-again—they’re just different sizes. The, my dog’s bigger than your dog and my beast is bigger than your beast within.
Yes, the beast is still here today, just waiting close by, hoping that I’ll start sitting in the front seat and put Jesus in the backseat, and yes there are times I still battle depression. However, I no longer fight these skirmishes alone and I no longer fight them for weeks on end–as long as I allow Jesus, The Captain of the Hosts of the Armies of God to stand out front, between the depths of depression and me. This is what allows me to open my window shades, turn on the lights, get up, go outside, and tell the beast that Jesus and I will conquer this depression once again. We will not allow it entrance and therefore cannot have its way with me. The beast of depression knows all the reasons I should give up again. However, it’s not going to happen. I will not give the beast the pleasure of robbing me of my joy in the Lord.
Proverbs 24:10 If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.